Hawkins BOE still to answer $4 million Clinch question

Jeff Bobo • Apr 3, 2007 at 11:54 AM

ROGERSVILLE - The Hawkins County Board of Education won't be presenting the County Commission with its solution to a $4 million question at Clinch School at least until next month.

The board has already made most of the major decisions regarding its proposed $30 million - or $34 million - phase three building project.

The one big decision still unresolved is whether the BOE will recommend constructing an entirely new Clinch School for an estimated $9 million, or the original plan for a renovation and addition to the existing Clinch School for about $5 million.

The other aspects of phase three include a new 20-classroom fifth- and sixth-grade school to be constructed on the Church Hill Middle School campus; 12-classroom additions at both Cherokee and Volunteer high schools; and a renovation and classroom additions at Bulls Gap School.

Discussion of phase three is on the agenda for Thursday's BOE meeting, but Director of Schools Clayton Armstrong said Tuesday the board isn't ready yet to make a decision.

Instead, the board will schedule a special called workshop for next week in hopes of finalizing the phase three plans. Then the BOE will request a joint meeting with the County Commission for April 26, at which time architect Don Solt will present the commission with the final phase three proposal and cost estimates.

Armstrong said the BOE would then schedule a special called meeting for May 3 to vote on the phase three plan, leaving enough time to get the proposal on the agenda for the May County Commission meeting.

Whatever the school board decides regarding its final phase three proposal, it will require funding approval from the commission.

Everyone already knows the only way to fund the project will be another tax increase. It would be the fourth tax increase in a row for Hawkins County if approved, but Armstrong said he believes spending the money now on school buildings will save a lot more money down the road when construction costs have increased.

"Every day we postpone this, the cost is going up," Armstrong said. "I know it's a burden on the taxpayers because I'm a taxpayer myself. But the state has set out classroom size requirements, and if we don't do something about it now, before long our schools are going to be busting at the seams with kids, and we're going to have to spend more money to deal with it down the road.

"Our school board's number one concern is getting the most bang for our tax dollars, and doing it right the first time so we have facilities that will serve our needs for the next 20 to 30 years."

And that leads county leaders back to the $4 million Clinch School question. The community spoke out overwhelmingly in favor of a new school last month during a public meeting held at the school.

Board member Tammy Baird, who represents the Clinch area, said she agrees and believes the majority of her fellow board members are also in favor of the new school. She said she's heard from many taxpayers who are concerned about the increased tax burden, including her own parents, but she said it will be money well-spent.

"Nobody wants to pay more taxes, especially people like my parents who are on a fixed income and don't have children in the school system," Baird said. "But I look at it as an investment in our children and an investment in our future. Our children are our future, and they deserve the best education that we can give them. And if our county is going to continue to grow, the best way to facilitate that is through education.

"Everyone knows that when a new industry considers locating in a community, one of the first things they look at is the school system, and we have an opportunity right now to make some great strides forward."

Armstrong said he too is in favor of the new school proposal. One major strike against the addition/renovation plan for Clinch is the fact that there would be no more remaining space on campus for future expansion.

"To renovate that existing Clinch School is really throwing good money after bad because the building is so old and inadequate to the needs of the students," Armstrong said. "When we held the public meeting at Clinch, we thought we'd hear a lot more opposition to a new school simply because of the sentiment attached to it, and I think we were all surprised when the people came out overwhelmingly in support of a new school.

"Even though it is more money, I think the wisest use for that money is a longer-range plan for Clinch, and I really think the board will go for the new school. But it's all going to come down to dollars and cents."

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